The Ham Sandwich

The Ham Sandwich

Rushing home to get on my computer for a one pm meeting, I still had time to stop at the deli and get something to go. I’d mute my mic while I ate and no one would ever know the difference. Glad there was no line when I arrived, I was upset to see Ali the Master Sandwich Maker wasn’t behind the counter. He took pride in his work, as any craftsman should. But he wasn’t there. Instead, a pretty young woman new to the deli stood in his place. Pretty or not, could she fill Ali’s shoes and live up to his excellent sandwich making skills?

“Hi, where’s Ali?”

She smiled but didn’t answer. Maybe she didn’t hear me.

I let it go and said, “Ham and Swiss cheese on a roll with mustard and lettuce, please.”

She held up two rolls, one on each side of her cheerful face, sesame on the left and poppy on the right. Now that was something Ali never did. He’d just pick up any old roll and that’s what I got. I pointed to the poppy and started to think that maybe his replacement wasn’t going to be too bad after all.

I got home and to my desk just in time, about two minutes to one. The meeting started and I muted so they couldn’t hear the crinkling of wax paper as I unwrapped my ham and Swiss. It was a good thing they couldn’t hear me because I said something unprintable when I saw orange American cheese instead of the Swiss I had asked for – very disappointing. As I explained some figures on a spread sheet to my associates, I quietly began to peel off the offending American cheese when I almost cursed again – mayo instead of mustard.

That was two strikes against the new sandwich maker. As quickly as I could, I ran to the fridge and grabbed the Gulden’s, reached in a drawer for a knife to spread it and got back to my meeting before anyone missed me. Most of the mayo was on the lettuce so I removed it and scrapped the rest of it off the bread. My desk began to look like a compost heap.

I thought I was finally ready to eat but no, I couldn’t. She might have been pretty, but she didn’t understand the underlying structure of a well-made sandwich. One has to be built, with each item carefully placed to evenly cover the bread to the right thickness, as Ali did. She cut a few slices of ham, folded them over and just laid them there leaving one side higher than the other. And she left bare spots, where a bite would result in a mouthful of bread and nothing else. I had to relocate each slice and by the time I corrected her amateurish mistakes, my keyboard was smeared with mayo and mustard.

American instead of Swiss and mayo instead of mustard.

Could she have sabotaged my sandwich on purpose? She seemed so sweet I couldn’t accept that. The only other explanation was that she didn’t understand English, and not just that, she must have come from a culture that didn’t understand sandwiches. When I made my order, she got “ham” and “cheese” but all the rest seemed to have been guess work on her part.

I half-heartedly ate my sandwich and continued with the meeting but I was distracted. I thought about the time Judge Sol Wachtler was in the news a few years back. Dissatisfied with the way the New York grand jury system worked, he felt it should be done away with. He said prosecutors had so much influence they could always get an indictment. They could even get the jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” If ever a ham sandwich deserved to be indicted, it was the one I had just eaten.


Another meeting, another sandwich – just right this time.


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Robert Iulo – Writing Site and  Yelp

Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma
This is a Sicilian recipe that my Aunt Lena, who married a Sicilian, used to make. She called it simply “rigatoni with eggplant.” I didn’t learn that it was formally known as “Pasta alla Norma” until I was an adult. It was named for the heroine in Bellini’s Norma.

* Ricotta salata comes in 2 types – fresh for eating and dry for grating. If you can’t get it, use parmigiana.

Slice the eggplant into about 1/2-inch rounds (don’t peel it). Salt and drain it. Cook it over medium-high heat in a pot, in olive oil adding more oil as needed. Do it in batches so it doesn’t crowd. Cook it until it’s browned and soft. Don’t worry about a few burnt edges – that adds flavor. Move it to a plate and don’t drain it or put it on paper towels.

Meanwhile, put up a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
Using the same pot the eggplant was cooked in, add some oil and on medium heat fry garlic with salt, black pepper and red pepper. After a few minutes when the garlic begins to color, add the tomatoes. Cook for about 20-25 minutes on medium. Taste for seasoning.
Cook the pasta until almost done. Cut the eggplant into approximately 1-inch pieces (they’ll be irregularly shaped and that’s OK) and add to the tomato sauce.

Gently stir it in. Drain the almost cooked pasta (saving a cup of pasta water in case the sauce is too dry) and toss it with the sauce. Again, gently, so the eggplant doesn’t break up too much. Serve with freshly grated  ricotta salada.


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Robert Iulo at Yelp

Lac du Saint Sacrement

Lac du Saint Sacrement

You can go for just the boat ride or include a buffet lunch on the Lac du Saint Sacrement.  We had the lunch. The trip started at the southern end of Lake George and took about 3 hours.

Lac du Saint Sacrement

The food was simple and good with friendly and professional servers. They had a full bar too.Lac du Saint Sacrement

Lac du Saint Sacrement

After we lunch we went to the upper decks to enjoy the Adirondack scenery.

Lac du Saint Sacrement

Lac du Saint Sacrement

Lac du Saint Sacrement

Lac du Saint Sacrement


If you’re in the Lake George area in Upstate New York and want to spend a pleasant afternoon on the Lac du Saint Sacrement check out Lake George Steamboat.

Lac du Saint Sacrement


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Robert Iulo at Yelp

Michele’s Shrimp & Rice

The Fisherman’s Wharf – corner of Houston and Mott Street in New York’s Little Italy
Michele’s Shrimp & Rice
Michele was the chef at the Fisherman’s Wharf, our family restaurant when we were kids (the drawing above was done by my sister Nicki).  Shrimp & Rice was one of his specialties. I don’t have his recipe so I had to make a few guesstimates. What I came up with was pretty close.

Sauté onion and celery in oil with 1 anchovy (or a squeeze of anchovy paste) and  Cajun spice When veggies are soft (not brown), add 3 cups of stock and ½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce and stir. Check for seasoning. Sometimes stock can be salty and there are other salty ingredients so you may not need any additional salt. Bring it to a boil, add the rice and cook covered on low for 15 minutes.

Add the shrimp and the 4th and last cup of stock and complete cooking – 10 minutes on low heat covered.

If necessary, add some hot water to maintain a soupy consistency.

Fish stock involves fish heads, bones and shells. Make it if you like, but I prefer “Better Than Bouillon Fish Base.” One teaspoon mixed with one cup of hot water is all you need to do.


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Robert Iulo at Yelp

S and J Deli

S & J Deli

A few years back, on the way to a weekend in Upstate New York, we pulled off the Taconic Parkway to stop for lunch. We went to a strip mall in Hopewell Junction hoping for a diner. No luck, but there was a deli – the S and J Deli. We thought we’d get some sandwiches and eat in the car.

Homemade mozzarella and fresh sausage

When we walked in we were glad to see that they had a few tables. We were ever more glad to see what kind of deli it was. There shelves were stocked with imported pasta, olive oil and other Italian delicacies. The guy behind the counter saw that we were overwhelmed with the choices when he asked us what we wanted and suggested fresh mozzarella and capicola topped with sautéed broccoli rabe on Italian bread. What a great combination. They even had Manhattan Special, an espresso soda usually only available in NYC Italian neighbourhoods.

Italian imports and delicacies

It was a much better lunch that we ever expected. I saved their address and this became a standard lunch stop for all our trips to the Adirondacks. We were there again just a few days ago and had a fresh mozzarella, fried eggplant and roasted pepper sandwich with a sprinkle of balsamic – perfect. No website but they have some great reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor and others.


S and J Deli – Menu

– just off the Taconic –


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Robert Iulo at Yelp

New York Times Eggplant Favorites

 New York Times Eggplant Favorites

There’s a good article in the NYT Food Section by David Tanis. He gives a brief history of eggplant and it’s use in Sicilian cuisine. And what he says about eggplant in Sicily applies to lots of Southern Italian areas – it’s a staple and used in many different ways and the recipes have many variations.


Article –  Eggplant Favorites, Rooted in Sicily

– Recipes –

Pasta alla Norma

Caponata

Baked Eggplant